Friday, January 28, 2011

Homeschool: Snowy Day Unit

In early January we did a unit on the book Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Not only do I never remember reading this book; (!) I didn't know anything about the author. It was lots of fun to read other books by him both online (visit the Ezra Jack Keats website for online books) and from the library. He has a fascinating illustration style that sort of pioneered collage before Eric Carle ever thought to try it! And his subject matter is equally interesting: simple childhood events played out with all their dramas, conflicts and joys. The plots are very gentle and focused directly on the point of view of the child or children in the story. As such, sometimes they seem to end abruptly or without the kind of neatly tied up ending that many children's story books feature. They also wrestle (either directly or indirectly) with very complex themes, but in a very gentle way. Often the illustrations present many good conversation points. This was especially true in the books we read set in a very poor slum-like apartment and the one set in a swamp where a little girl lived with her parents in a bus. I really enjoyed finding out that Peter, the very young main character in Snowy Day, became a character in an entire line of books that follow him (and his friends) as they go through life all the way to their early teen years.

All in all, it was a fun, active book to do with a lot of fresh snow on the ground outside!
After we copied Peter's actions outside (see the slideshow below) we also did an inside obstacle course of many of the same actions.

Here is Mr. T trying to hit a target (the blue paper) with as many snowballs (Dad's socks) as possible as quickly as possible!

Climbing to the top of the mountain

Snow angels - I got out our huge IKEA comforter that is white for this. Every once in a while I would wrap up whoever was down doing snow angels and roll them around in a "gigantic snowball"! We have another book that we read often called The Biggest Snowball in the World in which a whole neighborhood of children get rolled up into a snowball. So they enjoyed pretending they were in a gigantic snowball!

Toes in, toes out. I had noticed that Mr. T had a really hard time understanding how to do especially toes in while we were outside. But when he had to follow these footprints he did very well.

Over the course of several days we made these snowmen on our windows. One day we drew the circles and stamped out the paint. Another day they had to cut out the hat and buttons out of foam paper (much easier to cut than regular paper). Then we cut up eyes and mouth pieces and arm pieces. Finally we put all the details up for some really nice snowmen! These two are Mr. T's and the Little Sweetie's.


O Boy's snowman. He thought it was hilarious that he used one of the "twigs" to make a mustache for his snowman. He also used foam scraps to make 2 knives for him.

These were supposed to be snowmen but Mr. T's turned into a bunny and I don't really remember what kind of creature O Boy made his out to be!

Mr. T's snow bunny (holding a carrot of course). I'm really thankful to see how Mr. T is better able to manipulate these pattern blocks and use them confidently (instead of being frustrated with them) more each time I get them out.


One of Mr. T's many oral motor activities is to blow cotton balls into a bucket; kind of like playing soccer with your mouth! It's highly motivating and he can do it all by himself for quite a while. Other times we'll play against each other, blowing back and forth across the table. But I find that this is more immediately rewarding to him. He uses a straw to focus his mouth muscles into an "o" shape to help him direct the flow of air.

I realized that we were on the letter "o" during the middle of this book study. So of course we practiced drawing snowmen instead of practicing our "o's". The boys both had a really hard time getting all their o's to sit directly one on top of another but as the week went on they began to add more details to their snowmen. This was especially important for Mr. T, who needed a lot of support to think of details to add in the beginning but who became more independent as time went on.

One of Mr. T's early snowmen!

A snowman scene by O Boy (and there's one by me in there too since I was modeling as we talked and drew).

One of the very short science "experiments" our curriculum suggested was to make predictions about how heat affects the rate of snow melting. So we talked about it a bit, got some snow, made our predictions and set out the bowls. We had one in front of the heater, one inside by a window and one outside. You can imagine what the results were! But it was fun to experience it with the kids. I was pretty surprised at the dramatic difference between the three bowls. It really helped to illustrate the point. We ended up with textbook perfect results: one had almost no melt, one was slush with snow still visible and the third had completely melted!
One concept we casually began working with this week was counting by twos. We do it at the end of the month several times when we build up enough numbers on the calendar to really count by twos for a while. ! They like jumping as we skip count. But in this unit it was very natural to do more counting by twos as we talked a lot about footprints in the snow. For several days I had them use 2 fingers and a stamp pad to make "footprints" by twos in the snow. They had to make the same amount as the number on the strip of paper. Then we would count (by twos) the "footprints". My main goal in all this was to help them understand the difference between counting by ones and twos and to get the pattern of at least 2, 4, 6, 8 down.

Another fun activity we did several times (food fun is always popular!) over the course of this unit was to make snowflakes out of toothpicks and marshmallows. This is an infinitely expandable and flexible activity that works for all ages and levels. So the Little Sweetie was able to have fun poking the marshmallows while O Boy was learning how to use triangles to make his snowflakes bigger and stronger.

These are the very first simple snowflakes they made.


I showed them how you could connect a few snowflake points together to make triangles and O Boy decided to try it...

Mr. T came up with putting two marshmallows on one toothpick for a new look! With Mr. T I worked a lot on helping him see how he could make his snowflake look the same (symmetrical) on both sides.

My snowflake!
My suspicion is that all her other marshmallows were eaten!

Here's a complex structure that O Boy made that went well beyond the scope of mere "snowflake"!

Later in the unit Mr. T began learning how to connect the snowflake points to make triangles, a more difficult skill.



Since we have these wonderful white IKEA couch cushions (which are endlessly useful for building things out of) we decided to make indoor snow forts one day and have a snowball fight. This was TONS of fun!

Boys vs. Girls

The snowballs

The girls team (I got to wear one of the boys' snow hats) and O Boy took this pic.

The fight is on!

Another activity we did that was suggested by our curriculum was to make seed circles for the birds to eat. We squirted (thick) lines of glue into circles on wax paper. Then we scooped seeds all over them and left them to dry. This part took MUCH longer than I expected. Even with putting them in front of the heater and peeling them up and flipping them over to dry it still took days and days. Then when they were finally dry I tied strings on them and hung them out for the birds to get. I probably should have hung them on a tree so that the birds could perch and eat, but in the end they figured out a way (I'm not sure how) to pull the strings down so that they could eat the seed circles on the deck!

Early in our Snowy Day unit I took the kids outside and we reenacted some of the things Peter does in the book. Then I used those pictures and phrases on sentence strips to have the boys sequence the events in the book (and we also used them when we made the indoor obstacle course).


Tot School
Here are two of Nea's "tot school" (thanks Carisa at the 1+1+1=1 blog for the above icon) jobs from this unit:
The first is a cereal box in which I cut a small slit in the top only big enough for her to stick popsicle sticks into. This was so incredibly popular with not only her but her brothers. They loved it so much I made another one with a hole for single straws to drop into a cracker box.
Behind her you see Mr. T working in the sensory tub I set up for this unit: white beans. We did lots of things with these beans - scooping, dumping, hiding and finding. I also did some digit span activities with Mr. T in the beans where I would show him 4 bear counters, then we would bury them with beans and he would have to tell me their order (and other variations on that theme).

1 comment:

McDorky said...

This sounds like an amazing unit! Wish I taught preschool again so I could use it, even though it would be less authentic since we have no snow! I love units like this that are easy to span across content areas! The opportunities are endless :) Did you do collage-type art like Keats? Ripping paper would be a good fine motor (along with the gluing)! Just off the top of my head!